After visiting Warsaw, Gdansk and Sopot, I finally made it to Krakow. Which is rather strange as Krakow is the most popular Polish city for tourists and definitely a good way to start. It’s raved about nonstop and whenever I told people I had never been to Krakow, they seemed shocked! So this January I finally got to give this beautiful city a visit.
However, I actually found Krakow to be quite overrated. No that doesn’t mean I found the place to be overpriced and rubbish and that the other Polish cities are much better – but I found it to be no better than the other cities I’d been to and thus either Krakow is extremely overrated as being the best Polish city, or all the others are severely underrated. Who knows? Either way, I had a great time here on my way to Zakopane, it was a nice city break to accompany the wintery mountain break.
HOW TO GET THERE AND WHERE TO STAY
-Getting to Krakow is pretty simple. Many airlines fly into the city’s airport. The most prevalent airline being Ryanair. I flew from Stansted and found the whole experience to be pretty good. Sometimes you can bag a return for around £20, which means this trip is not to mean on your wallet.
-To get from the airport to the city centre, simply hop on the express train that costs no more than 9zl (just under £2). It takes 17 minutes.
-If you don’t want to fly or are flying into somewhere else, the Polish train system is pretty good and very well priced. With dozens of intercity trains across the country and to neighbouring countries, you won’t struggle to get here.
-For accommodation, the Ibis is great. With Krakow being the most popular tourist city, prices can be higher in comparison to other cities. The Ibis is a great base for exploring though, as not only is it cheap, but its the most convenient. The rooms are spotless, the location is one of the best in the whole city and our whole stay was very comfortable. Our rate was £25 a night on one night!
WHAT TO DO
See the Old Town
Now, this is pretty much stating the obvious since this is what Krakow is famous for, however, don’t just wander to the main square and wander back – walk around all of it, the backstreets, the smaller squares, see the smaller churches, enjoy the whole thing. Of course, the main square is gorgeous with many horse and carts, market stalls and stunning architecture which can be seen all around – even with a tower you can climb. But the back streets are where you will find all the gems. I certainly found one…
Visit Massolit Books
This was the gem I was talking about. It’s nestled in the south of the old town. As you enter you come across an adorable little cafe, that you can see is predominantly for international students. With the cafe area and a communal area in the back. The best part is when you bypass the cafe and find the rest of the shop. Lots of cosy corners and every book genre you could think of. To be honest, I could have picked up dozens of books in here, but I limited myself to two: One history book on Japan and one Political/Economic history of Japan. Yes, I picked books from the Asian culture and history section of course…
Visit the Jewish Quarter
Known as Kazimierz, it is an area where most Jewish people inhabited before mass persecution in the 1940s. From history, we know with nationalism being rife in the early 1900s, many Jewish people came to Poland as a safe haven where they were excepted, and thus this area is certainly rich in culture. After the holocaust, this area fell into disrepair during the Cold War, but since the 1990s it has returned to be a predominantly Jewish area and that can be seen with the various cafes and restaurants dotted around here. There is much history to be learned here, but to appreciate it properly I really recommend a tour or at least a travel guide or history book to take along with you, so you can really appreciate the quarter.
A more expensive activity on this list, but still a good one nonetheless. Just hop on a train at Krakow Glowny station and within 15 minutes you’ll be at the salt mine. Of course, it’s all pretty self-explanatory, but if you’ve never been down a salt mine, you must. It’s a fun experience plus the history that accompanies it too is great to learn. I personally did not go down Krakow’s salt mine, but after experiencing Salzburg’s one I’d be more than happy to do it all again.
Old factory owned by Oscar Schindler during World War II, now the building houses one of the best museums in Poland, presenting the dramatic situation of the city under the Nazi occupation. It walks you through the era pre-war up to the end of the war and how Krakow was stolen during the war and it really portrays the hardship of the town and how Schindler’s factory saved the lives of the Jewish who worked there. The museum is supposed to be extremely fascinating, and I’ll certainly be visiting when I return.
WHAT TO EAT
Okay okay, I’ve explained about Wedel countless times now in previous blog posts about Poland, but trust me you need to go. The creamy hot chocolates, the rich truffles and even the teas and juices they make are simply wonderful. After a morning of sightseeing, a chill out in here is a great idea.
Now this place really hits the spot for a cheap price for breakfast. For 16l (£3) you can buy the ‘Charlotte Breakfast’ (the signature dish), which gets you a basket full of freshly baked bread, a jar of spread of your choice and a hot drink. To have something of that size in a UK Costa or Starbucks, you’d be paying over £8! Not only is it all delicious and nice for your wallet, but the service and atmosphere in here too is fabulous. My tip is to arrive at a good time and sit upstairs or on the main level, the basement level can be dingy and service can be slower.
Not exactly Polish food, but it is a really good chain that can only be found in Poland! It specialises in Shawarma, however, there is such a wide variety of choice here you could realistically get anything you wanted. Very quick service and delicious food at a good price. A great last minute option!
Zazie is a laid-back venue in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, with one of the floors being a cellar. It sells French-style food and is even in the Michelin guide. However, not being a massive meat eater I would have struggled to find something to eat here, however, if meat is your thing my Dad who visited a few months ago raves about the place.
Remember the bookshop I just mentioned? Well, it has a lovely cafe too. With tonnes of herbal teas to chose from, polish hot chocolate and lots of different pastries and sandwiches, it’s a lovely spot to grab a coffee and a book – literally.
-For a European city break, it is one of the cheapest, as aforementioned our hotel was a bargain.
-For cheap food, shop at supermarkets. Carrefour expresses can be found almost anywhere.
-Lots of sightseeing and walking to do which is also free of course.
-However, I have noticed that Krakow is a little bit overrated in a sense. It’s the Polish city that gets the most praise and recognition, and also the one that costs the most (although it still isn’t a lot compared to the UK).
-Which is why I’d recommend visiting Gdansk, Poznan or Wroclaw if you want an even cheaper trip. Krakow is not any better than the other polish cities I’ve mentioned, but it’s certainly not any worse either. I actually believe they provide all the same when it comes to sightseeing, enjoyment etc, just Krakow is on par with the others and not above them, hence why I think it’s a little overrated.
-If you’re looking to save cash majorly, Krakow and Warsaw are the most expensive cities in Poland.
I hope you enjoyed my little destination guide, have you been to Krakow or another city in Poland? If not would you consider going? What’s your ideal city break that doesn’t break the bank?